If job creation is the goal, make E-Verify mandatory

In a speech delivered during a campaign fundraising trip to Texas last month, President Obama called for Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform, also known as “amnesty.” Meanwhile, the president and his administration claim that putting unemployed Americans back to work is their No. 1 priority. 

But these two goals cannot be met simultaneously. The president cannot say on one hand that he wants to create jobs and on the other that he wants to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. 

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Amnesty prevents Americans from getting jobs, since millions of illegal immigrants will become eligible to work legally in the United States. The president’s proposal to legalize millions of illegal immigrants means more competition for American workers who are in need of jobs. 

Look at history to see how amnesty has played out in the past. In 1986, Congress legalized about 3 million illegal immigrants. It didn’t fix the problem; it only made it worse. Today, there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., and 7 million people work here illegally. At the same time, 26 million Americans are unemployed or have given up looking for work.

It is inexcusable that Americans and legal workers have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs. Rather than reward lawbreakers, we should put American workers first. 

Fortunately, there is a free, quick and easy tool available to preserve jobs for legal workers: E-Verify. But the program is currently voluntary. Congress has the opportunity to expand E-Verify so more job opportunities are made available to unemployed Americans. There is no other legislation that can be enacted that will create more jobs — maybe millions more — for American workers. 

Created in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, E-Verify is a Web-based system that allows employers to electronically verify the work eligibility of newly hired employees. 

Under E-Verify, the Social Security numbers of new hires are checked against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records to weed out fraudulent numbers and help ensure that new hires are legally authorized to work in the U.S. 

Even though E-Verify is not mandatory, more than 250,000 businesses willingly use E-Verify and 1,300 new businesses sign up each week. Individuals eligible to work receive immediate confirmation 99.5 percent of the time. 

Unlike amnesty, E-Verify has received overwhelming bipartisan support since its creation as a pilot program in 1996. It was extended in 2002, 2008 and 2010. In 2008, the House passed a standalone five-year extension of E-Verify by a vote of 407-2. And in 2009, the Senate passed a permanent E-Verify extension by voice vote. 

Part of the success of E-Verify is that participating employers are happy with the results. Outside evaluations have found that the vast majority of employers using E-Verify believe it to be an effective and reliable tool for checking the legal status of their employees. 

And E-Verify recently received an exceptionally high overall customer satisfaction score — 82 out of 100 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index scale. That is well above the overall federal government satisfaction index of 69. 

The American people also support E-Verify. A May 2011 Rasmussen poll found that 82 percent of likely voters think businesses should be required to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to determine if a potential employee is in the country legally.

And a 2010 Zogby poll of minorities commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies found that 88 percent of likely minority voters polled support reducing the illegal immigrant population over time by enforcing existing immigration laws, such as requiring employers to verify the legal status of their workers. 

With millions of citizens and legal workers looking for work, it is important that we promote policies that increase job opportunities for Americans and legal immigrants. Amnesty undermines this goal, but making E-Verify mandatory helps achieve it. 

As long as opportunities for illegal employment exist, the incentive to enter the United States illegally or to overstay visas will continue. 

If job creation is the president’s priority, then he should push Congress to pass mandatory E-Verify legislation. We cannot sit and hope that businesses hire only legal workers; hope is not a strategy. E-Verify is our best tool for reducing the jobs magnet and creating more jobs for American workers. 

Smith is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

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